Book Banning? Really!?! What Year Are We Living In?

It’s 2022 and yet, if you do a quick internet search for book banning, hundreds of articles, interviews, and news stories pop up and they are not just from the past but rather are prominently featured in today’s headlines. Book banning (and book burning sadly), remain current issues.  While banning books has been a practice for years (dating back to at least the 15th century), current events have brought it back to the foreground for significant educational and parental discussion. What books are being banned and why? Who decides?

Book Banning has certainly spanned our country’s history, yielding numerous debates about controversial topics such as religion, politics, gender identification, and race; however, the real debate is over who decides what is and isn’t “appropriate”.

To Kill A Mockingbird, The Hate U Give, Maus, The Bluest Eye, and the entire Harry Potter Series are just a few examples of books that have been banned or are on a “watch list” due to “inappropriate” content. But the bigger question is, who deems book content appropriate? Is it parents? School teachers? School Administrators? School Boards? Librarians? Publishers? Politicians? Who ultimately should decide what is taught in schools? Is there a different standard for public libraries? What about the number of parents who complain about a particular book? What if only one parent is bothered by content in a particular book that is being taught in a public school classroom? Should that teacher be required to change their curriculum to appease one parent? What if more than one parent objects? What about the Mississippi assistant principal who was recently fired for reading a book to a group of second graders that was deemed “inappropriate” by school administrators who merely feared parents would complain? The assistant principal defended the book as just “a funny, silly book that can help teach kids reading can be fun”. How are educators expected to walk the line of appropriate and inappropriate when it’s extremely subjective and based on opinion? The answer seems to be: with extreme caution. 

Consider the following articles and news video attached below.

The History (and Present) of Banning Books in America ‹ Literary Hub

To Ban or Not To Ban? Virginia’s Schools Caught in a Battlefield – Dogwood.

 Austin Public Library condemns book banning in Texas

When you were in school, were you required to read any of the books that are now banned? Did you think about any controversial issues as you were reading them? Did any of the content give you pause, where you thought to yourself, hmmm, maybe this isn’t appropriate for me to be reading? As educators, are there any books you’ve recently come across that you now think you’d shy away from in terms of teaching? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

7 thoughts on “Book Banning? Really!?! What Year Are We Living In?

  1. This is a topic that raises my blood pressure, even more-so these days. I believe that teachers and librarians are in the best position to select the most appropriate books for their students. I worry about who we marginalize when we decide it’s inappropriate to read books about different family structures, the holocaust, or “true” history accounts. I’m shocked at the lack of backbone shown by school boards to parents who complain about a single word or phrase taken out of context and use it to remove books from circulation. I’m all for parents reviewing what their kids read, but I’m NOT okay with them making that decision for anyone else’s child.

  2. Great post, Erika! The topic of book banning also makes my blood pressure spike. I remember hearing a lot about banned books when I was in the 7th grade, and I also remember purposely asking my middle school librarian for copies of those very books. The banned book label really only served to stir up my interest. I read _The Catcher in the Rye_ that year, but I had to go out and buy it from B. Dalton since the library didn’t carry it. I remember reading it and wondering why exactly it had been banned. Yes, there’s cursing in there, but there’s not a lot of drugs or violence or sex. It’s basically just a story about a surly, alienated kid!

    Speaking of all this, there’s a piece in the NYTimes this weekend about subversive kids books. The article talks about an assistant principal in Mississippi who was fired for reading _I Need a New Butt_ over Zoom to a class of second-graders:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/24/well/kids-books-subversive.html

    Now, granted, I don’t think _I Need a New Butt_ is high art, but I also don’t think teachers or administrators should be fired for reading it in class. It all just seems so extreme — and does nothing but create an environment where educators are afraid to take risks for fear of offending parents.

  3. Hey Erika,

    I am so so so glad that you brought this up. Get ready for this essay (not really). But, seriously, every time the term “banned books” comes up, steam is coming out of my ears at 30mph.

    Banned book reading was a big thing back in high school and I would listen in to the librarians explaining why some books were banned. I simply did not understand or agree with the decisions.

    Teachers should be the ones making the decisions as to which books are appropriate to use in their teaching. I refuse to accept that parents and school boards have the right of way in deciding what everyone is able to read. To support parents who do not want their children reading certain content, I suggest that teachers provide some sort of syllabus listing all literary texts that will be used during the year and, should they have concerns, parents should talk to the teacher to make arrangements to have independent learning during the parents’ undesired time of instruction. Teachers will, hopefully, be able to tell what is slightly mature from totally unacceptable content to teach from books, so it is likely that most parents will be accepting of the readings if the teacher picks the right books.

  4. Erika,

    In ninth grade, I read To Kill a Mockingbird. Although I remember the book itself, I honestly do not remember any of my teacher’s lessons or discussions. However, I would not be surprised if she skirted around some issues directly confronted by the book. Other than that, I do not recall reading any “controversial” books although I certainly read some Shakespeare.

    The world is full of difficult conversations, racism, and prejudice. I think it is important for students to learn about prejudice, racism, and social justice. I also think it is important for students to learn about true history/events. I do not see the point of evading these conversations as then students are simply ill equipped to deal with the real world, which is not simply “white, straight, middle-class America” (Brady, 2016). After all, the books being banned include themes of race, ethnicity, and sexual preference and are mainly written by minorities.

    As Moore points out, there is a disconnect in what is being banned. Shakespeare and even the Bible have sexual or inappropriate content (which Moore states conservatives are claiming is what is “questionable” in these other banned books), and places are not banning those. Rather, minorities’ voices are being oppressed. Also, most students encounter violence, prejudice, sexual content and more via media and in their everyday lives. Exposure to these concepts in books will not be their first.

    Students have a right to broaden their understanding of the world, and it concerns me that even libraries are banning certain books. As we discussed, I think it is certainly important for us as teachers to know our students, know their parents, and read all books that we include in our classroom ahead of time. While teaching books, we can certainly contextualize them and discuss different perspectives. As for reading opportunities, students’ levels of reading and experiences vary. The world is a diverse place, children have diverse experiences, and students have a right to access diverse books. Also, if only one parent protests, that one parent can prevent their student from reading said book rather than a school or county banning it entirely.

  5. Erika,
    This topic baffles me. It is so frustrating when we see history clearly repeating itself. Censorship is an issue that I believe should fall on parents or guardians. Living in a free country, I think that there is a right to free speech, no matter “who” thinks it is inappropriate. It may very well be inappropriate, but I think we should issue a book rating system similar to movies. We don’t ban movies from the theaters, we simply give them a rating to warn viewers. I think something similar should be done with books, so we are not “banning” them, but simply warning readers that there may be mature, unsettling or heavy content. I think censorship and banning is a slippery slope that may lead to the obstruction of freedom if it is not better regulated. The United States is a country founded on freedom, and that freedom extends to speech and literature. I think people have a right to make decisions for themselves. In the case of young children, I think the same thing goes as it does for movies: The parents or guardians should be given the choice. There are certainly things that are absolutely inappropriate and mature for young students, so teachers of course use caution and always read books before hand. However, banning books altogether is a slippery slope that I don’t believe is the right answer.
    Thanks Erika for a great post!

  6. Hi Erika,
    During my secondary education, there were a couple required books that are now banned and/or challenged such as, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. As I read these books in secondary school (in either 9th or 10th grade), I didn’t think much about the controversial issues during that time, but there were instances when I felt uncomfortable.

    As an educator, it is our responsibility to read every book prior to determining whether to include literature in our teaching instruction or not. In addition, establishing transparency with both students and their parents on potentially controversial literature, so it does not feel like a surprise to them. Further, through clear and explicit communication, I will state my reasonings for the inclusion of literature and to reassure students and their parents/guardians that my intent is to provide students the opportunities to see topics from multiple perspectives. Furthermore, as I come across different literature that I may consider for teaching instruction, I do plan to implement the Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books by Louise Derman-Sparks in help me determine which books I will shy away from. Some examples of what to look for, as mentioned in the article, include checking for stereotypes, tokenism, looking at messages about different lifestyles, and loaded words; just to name a few.

    In sum, I personally believe that the concept of banning books takes away learning opportunities for students of all ages. It is evident that we live in a world full of diversity. Thus, books provide a great way for students to gain insight and understanding of the individuals within and outside of their communities. Importantly, teachers/educators must consider their students when planning to implement certain literatures across all grade levels.

    *I also wanted to mention that, although I don’t plan to teach at the secondary level, I found that some of the reasons for challenges and bans is the idea of the book being “sexually explicit” yet students learn and talk about sexual health education in schools and from their peers regardless of a book being banned.

    Thank you for your post, I enjoyed the topic you picked!

  7. Hi Erika,

    I’m sorry to be commenting so late on this post; I don’t know how I managed to miss a week of blog responses (but here I am).

    This topic is BEYOND frustrating to me; I believe wholeheartedly that almost all age-appropriate books should be allowed in schools and that it is the responsibility of the parents/caregivers to discuss with their child what can be checked out and read or not. One of the beautiful things about libraries and reading is that there is something for everyone; children should not have their range of options be limited by the opinion of a group that holds beliefs that may be different from others. Currently, the big issue with book bans regards books around sexuality; this does not mean age-inappropriate sexual novels; instead, they are books about how someone perceives themselves, including transgender and LGBTQ+ themes. These books give insight into anatomy and autonomy; a book like this could help an individual struggling with their own identity; to ban it just because you don’t support the cause is sickening.

    I understand the need to ban some books; for example, I have a copy of Stephen King’s novel Rage, which tells the story of a school shooter; this book has been cited by many attempted or successful school shooters as their anthem or inspiration. While this book has not been banned, Stephen King was so disgusted by his actions that he has pulled the book from print and went out of his way to publish pieces discussing non-violence. Again, although it has not been banned, I could see an argument for that happening; works of literature that act as manifestos or cause violence, hate, and other negative emotions could have grounds for being kept away from children.

    However, again I can’t see the positive in preventing multiple stories from being told by banning books; I was shocked to see The Kite Runner as a banned book; I remember reading and loving that book my senior year of high school. I hope more actions are put in place to protect freedom of speech and that we reconsider the grounds necessary for book censorship in schools and public libraries.

    Lastly, I want to add that I LOVED the response from the Austin public library. First, that city is so unique and breaks out of the conformities and stereotypes of Texas (Keep Austin Weird)! The library is such a valuable piece of architecture and a safe space for locals and visitors; when I visited last summer, I spent some time in the library enjoying its displays, butterfly garden, and overall atmosphere. It is compelling of them to stick up for libraries, authors, and those who want to read!

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